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In phonetics, linking ‘r’ refers to the process of connecting the sound /r/ to the following word in connected speech. It occurs when a word that ends with /r/ is followed by a word that begins with a vowel sound, resulting in the two sounds blending smoothly. This linking phenomenon is common in English and plays a significant role in the natural flow and rhythm of spoken language. Understanding and practising the rules of linking ‘r’ is crucial to achieving natural-sounding English pronunciation.

Linking ‘r’ is an important aspect of English pronunciation as it can drastically change the way words are spoken. It is most common in non-rhotic accents of English, such as those spoken in most of England and Wales, parts of the United States, and Australia. In these accents, the /r/ sound is not pronounced at the end of a word unless it is followed by another word that begins with a vowel sound. For example, the word “car” would be pronounced /kɑː/ in isolation, but it would be pronounced /kɑːr ˈəʊnər/ when followed by the word “owner”.

Linking ‘r’ can also occur in rhotic accents of English, such as those spoken in most of the southern United States and Scotland. However, in these accents, the /r/ sound is pronounced more strongly, and it may even be pronounced when the next word does not begin with a vowel sound. For example, the word “car” might be pronounced /kɑːr/ in isolation in a rhotic accent.

Common patterns of linking ‘r’ include linking r between words ending in a consonant and words starting with a vowel, such as “car accident” or “far away”. Linking ‘r’ can also occur between words where the first word ends in a vowel and the second word starts with a consonant but has a silent /r/, like in “four apples” or “saw a doctor.” These patterns of linking ‘r’ vary among languages and dialects but are crucial for achieving natural and fluid speech.

Rules for Linking ‘r’

    • The /r/ sound is only pronounced if the first word ends in one of the following vowels: /ɑː/, /ɔː/, /ɜː/, /ə/, /eə/, /ɪə/, or /ʊə/.
    • The /r/ sound is only pronounced if the next word begins with a vowel sound.
    • The /r/ sound is not pronounced if the two words are separated by a pause or by a consonant sound.

Examples of Linking ‘r’

car owner /kɑːr ˈəʊnər/
her eyes /hɜːr ˈaɪz/
very early /ˈverɪ ˈeəli/
water park /ˈwɔːtə ˈpɑːk/
birdhouse /ˈbɜːdhaus/

The ability to link words with the appropriate /r/ sound can greatly enhance one’s understanding of spoken English, as it helps to recognize and interpret the connections between different words and phrases. Linking ‘r’ is a crucial aspect of English pronunciation as it helps to eliminate awkward pauses and create a smooth and seamless transition between words. It also adds clarity and coherence to our speech, making it easier for listeners to follow along and comprehend our message.

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Devika Panikar
δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges under this directorate and is now posted at the Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of lecture notes she prepared by referencing various sources for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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